When the pandemic first started here in the United States, there were no rules or mandates to dictate how to handle exposure to a Covid-19 positive patient, or how to address a nurse testing positive for the virus. At first, nurses with positive exposure were told to go home and quarantine for two weeks. As you can imagine, that did not last for long because departments quickly became understaffed. This protocol changed, and nurses were able to take time off only with a positive test result.
In April 2020, the World Health Organization wrote that there are just under 28 million nurses worldwide, which is about 5.9 million nurses short of what the world needs for adequate care of the population (Lovelace, 2020). Throughout the pandemic, state nursing associations and unions have filed lawsuits against hospitals, healthcare systems, and state health departments for unsafe working conditions (Ali, 2020). Many nurses have transferred out of high-risk departments, quit, or just left the profession completely (Ali, 2020). Departments are understaffed and Covid-19 is not going away. In fact, in many places Covid-19 numbers are drastically increasing and overwhelming hospitals across the country.
In August 2020, a union called National Nurses United (NNU) filed a complaint with the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA). They accused HCA Healthcare, a company owning 17 hospitals in Florida, Kansas, Missouri, North Carolina, and Texas, for requiring nurses to work with a positive Covid-19 result, failing to notify or test workers when they have been exposed, and not testing exposed workers unless they are experiencing symptoms (Clark, 2020). The Service Employees International Union also filed a complaint against an HCA hospital in California alleging that workers were being forced to work without adequate PPE, as well as being required to work after testing positive (Clark, 2020).
One would think that after these lawsuits were announced, as well as the outrage in healthcare and among the general public, that there would be improvements in hospital protocols relating to the safety of its employees and patients.
On November 8, 2020, Governor Doug Burgum of North Dakota announced that medical personnel testing positive can work in Covid-19 wards if they are asymptomatic (Paradis, 2020). North Dakota currently has the highest rate of infection of any state, and its hospitals have reached capacity (Paradis, 2020). Governor Burgum states he is in line with the Centers for Disease Control “crisis” guidelines, all while a new CDC report states that nurses are the health care workers that have the highest risk of hospitalization from Covid-19 (Paradis, 2020). North Dakota has made it public that asymptomatic medical personnel can work. How many other hospitals are requiring their workers to do the same? Not enough research has been completed to ensure that this is safe for either the employee or the patient and provides evidence that nurses are not receiving the protection they deserve as a front line healthcare worker during this pandemic.
Ali, S. (2020, May 11). Why some nurses have quit during the coronavirus pandemic. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/why-some-nurses-have-quit-during-coronavirus-pandemic-n1201796
Clark, C. (2020, August 31). HCA Hospitals Accused of Requiring COVID-Infected Nurses to Work. Retrieved from https://www.medpagetoday.com/hospitalbasedmedicine/nursing/88370
Lovelace, B. (2020, April 06). WHO says there’s a global shortfall of 5.9 million nurses as world battles coronavirus pandemic. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/06/who-says-theres-a-global-shortfall-of-5point9-million-nurses-as-world-battles-coronavirus-pandemic.html
Paradis, C. (2020, November 10). COVID-19 Positive Nurses Can Still Work If Asymptomatic, State Rules. Retrieved from https://www.ibtimes.com/covid-19-positive-nurses-can-still-work-if-asymptomatic-state-rules-3079854